Dr. Joseph Romm, on his widely popular and educational blog Climate Progress questioned today many of Bill Gates views on energy and global warming. With all due respect to Dr. Romm, I think he is not seeing the full meaning of Bill Gates points. Here are some of the comments I wrote today on his blog:
Listen to Bill Gates!
I have been an environmental scientist for several decades and made significant contributions to the commercialization of wind energy when I was the manager of the solar office and the wind energy program for the California Energy Commission. I tried to look at reality and not mislead myself by wishful thinking. Bill Gates is a wise man and we must listen to him; he has a lot of logical things to say we do not wish to listen to because they are against our dreams. But facts are facts, even if we ignore them.
Many of the points Bill Gates discussed are valid:
First, he did not say efficiency is useless, but that it is limited. I have been advocating energy efficiency and conservation strongly for half a century. Almost no progress was achieved to date. It is not sexy like PV and people do not want to use conservation. Only strict national mandatory laws stronger than California may make a difference. It is not that the efficiency and conservation are not important, they are critically desirable and important, it is the difficulty in spreading them fast and widely to make a difference.
Read: Conservation can cut 30 times more CO2 per dollar, on my blog.
Bill Gates is correct on PV. First he is correct that unless the technology can be widely used in China and India it is essentially useless. PV is too expensive by a significant factor to be use on a large scale in these critical countries. No matter how much we cut GHG these two countries will continue to pass us with GHG by increasing amounts. They are the key to cutting GHG!
The PV global industry is in the order of $20 billion a year! This is a huge industry, not in infancy with starting pain. Why does it need more government support? Only to maintain and increase the profit of the PV industry. The cost of the panels went down a little, but it is not passing on to the consumer. The system price has to drop by ten to one according to Dr. Steven Chu to be significant. Not this expensive PV technology! Panels are less than 35% of system cost!
Without government support PV would have died a long time ago, as it should since it has made less than negligible contribution to reducing GHG. Also, too many supporters are dreaming about a world covered with PV panels and do not do other, more important things such as conservation and efficiency. Current PV technology inherently can't do it. Environmentalists often give Germany as a champion on PV we should emulate. Wrong! Germany spent over $70 B on PV by last year and got less than one half a percent of its electricity from that huge investment. At the same time wind produce 7% of their electricity, but worst of all, Germany has been increasing their dependence on coal power by considerably larger percentage that all the green technologies combined. Let's look at facts as they are, rather as we wish them to be.
Using this money for conservation and efficiency would have reduced GHG by 20 times or more.
The basis fact is that flat panel silicon technology demands very highly refined silicon which demands a lot of electricity to refined which is produced by coal power plants in Germany and China. We have also the several years of energy payback to consider.
It will take too long to demonstrate all the sensible points Bill Gates made. Let's listen to him and review carefully what we are proposing.
BTW, yes, nuclear power is more promising BECAUSE little innovations and improvement were made to date. There are so many new improvements that could be introduced. Without nuclear our green technologies are too erratic and even the promising wind energy may be degraded since future weather patterns would be changing and be less predictable with increasing GW.
Read www.ginosaronglobalwarming.org to understand why PV is not any part of the answer with current technology. R&D is critical to find new more practical solar technologies of converting sun energy to electricity.
For many years the Germans claim great activity in the green energy field. But actually they are increasing their GHG emissions substantially. Many US environmentalists points to the "success" of Germany, even a US Senator said, why we can not be like them...
But the story is misleading
..."Despite its reputation as a world leader in solar- and wind-power technologies (16 percent of its electricity comes from renewable sources), Germany also has a dirty secret. It is highly dependent on lignite, so-called brown coal, which is one of the filthiest fuels known to mankind, emitting 27 percent more carbon dioxide to produce the same amount of electricity as regular black coal. The country mines some 180 million metric tons of the stuff every year-slightly more than China and the United States combined-and is home to six of the 10 most polluting power plants in Europe. "On the one hand, Germany looks quite progressive, but if you take a closer look, it's another story," says Anike Peters, of Greenpeace Germany."
From: The Atlantic, Dec. 10, What's Eating Germany By Andrew D. Blechman (my emphasis)
The above clip shows how misleading is our understanding of actual environmental situations. We do not look into the details, and as they say: the Devil is in the detail.
While Germany has spent to date nearly a hundred billions dollars for photovoltaic systems, it is actually increasing rapidly its use of coal, but not only black coal, but one of the dirtiest - lignite.
Another misleading information is: "16% renewable." Actually solar, that took most of the money, generates less than one percent of the electricity, and wind almost all the rest.
Regarding my previous post on CFL vs. LED. This is the letter I mentioned in that post and mailed to the new, then, general manager of SMUD about improving CFL.
I never heard back from him and neither from the Board, about this issue.
I have discussed a number of these issues with Board members and was a guest speaker before the SMUD Board advocating putting main emphasis on energy efficiency and conservation as major parts of their long term planning.
Dr. Matania Ginosar
6201 S Street, MS. B408
Sacramento, CA 95817-1899
Dear Mr. DiStaio,
Congratulation on your new and important position.
During a recent meeting with Mr. Larry Carr, President of the Board of Directors, I learned that SMUD likes to increase the use of compact florescence lamps throughout your territory.
As an electrical engineer and an environmental scientist I have special interest and experience in cost-effective ways to reduce energy demands, and I have been using CFL for twenty years. Like SMUD I would like to see wide use of CFL too, but unfortunately I believe that the low quality of most CFL can reduce their adoption.
I have used by now some 50 CFL and many of them perform well below expectations. They die quickly, are noisy, reduce their light with time too much, and start slowly. In addition their light output is lower than stated. A 60 W CFL has typically just 50 W equivalent illumination (of standard incandescent lights) in real life. Most CFL can't be used in enclosed fixtures. This is also the experience of many of my friends who do like to use more CFL.
The quality of the original CFL, when they were made in the US and Europe was relatively high. I did not have any one which died early or made noise like the ones made in China for the last few years.
As an example, I have three CFL I bought from Home Depot and were "sponsored" by SMUD. All three failed immediately: one did not light at all, one gave only half the illumination, and the third was noisy. I will gladly mail them to you, if you wish. This is obviously just one example, but your own staff agreed that the general performance of CFL is poor.
Normal incandescent light bulbs are low cost, extremely reliable, noise free, and light instantly. As people experience the very short life, noise and slow start of these low quality CFL, they will reject CFL, and your important effort to spread their use may fail. Most people are not interested in CFL statistical averages, or low lifecycle costs, and when they experience repeated failures with CFL their minds would be set against CFL.
May I suggest that you bring this issue up in national electrical utility meetings and urge the group to put pressure on the CFL industry to drastically improve its quality. Especially do not sponsor suppliers of low quality CFL. I think that one of the poorest is FEIT that SMUD has worked with before.
I believe SMUD will benefit from a reliable CFL technology and seal of approval that the public can trust.
Thank you and SMUD for your excellent work and leadership.
BS MS EE, MS Mgt. D. Env.
C.c. Larry Carr
Twenty years ago I irritated a member of the Sacramento Municipal Utility Board, SMUD, when I answered media questions about Compact Fluorescent Lamps CFL, honestly and told them they have serious problems that must be solved before CFL could have wide public acceptance. He told them that all is well with CFL. He was wrong then and his type of approach -cover the negatives instead of correcting them - does not work.
Introduction: Standard light bulbs use a lot of electricity; we can save three quarter of the electricity by replacing them by compact fluorescent lamps, CFL. CFL did not capture much of the market because of their many limitations. Could the new light emitting diodes, LED, lamps achieve a much wider penetration, even with laws dictating higher efficiency light? I doubt it if we handle LED in the same poor way we did CFL.
Lighting uses considerable amount of our home electricity because we are using incandescent bulbs. The majority of these bulbs' electricity goes into heat, and less than 5% into light. Not only that, during the summer the heat portion warms the house interior, putting additional load on air conditioning. Since a typical electric power plant is just 33% efficient, reducing electrical waste saves three times as much in energy input [coal, gas] in our electrical systems, resulting in three times reduction in greenhouse gas GHG emissions.
Replacing one standard bulb by compact fluorescent lamp- CFL cut electricity to just one quarter, thus cutting our primary energy use, and GHG, by 12 times!!
Some of the reasons for considerable increase in home electricity use in the last two decades are bigger houses, using lights for decoration, and increasing use of indirect lighting that can demand up to ten times the light of direct lighting.
For the last quarter of a century the drive to reduce electrical demand by replacing standard light bulbs with compact fluorescent lamps, CFL, that are typically four times more light efficient, did not make much impact. There are some laws now that would dictate selling of only higher efficiency lights to increase markedly the use of CFL and LED, but we may have the same problems again.
Here are some of the limitations that reduce the use of CFL:
Very poor quality. Originally US and Europeans made CFL had long life and more steady output, but as the Chinese entered the market the quality went down drastically. Because of that and more, the public discarded its initial enthusiasm of CFL when experience showed:
1. Considerably Shorter life than specified.
2. Quick death when CFL are enclosed.
3. Shorter life when the lighting element is placed downward since heat goes up and heats the electronic parts.
4. Slow start
5. Very poor quality control: Noisy CFL and half-light CFL are common, while never with standard bulbs.
6. Light color is not always comparable to standard light bulbs.
7. Use of mercury.
8. Can't adjust light intensity [new adjustable CFL are costly]
There are technical solutions to some of these problems, but many of the problems are due to poor quality control. It is hard to achieve sustained improvements when the seal of approval is given to the CFL by utilities, by mass marketing and by inadequate seal of approvals. In short, little attention is paid to the problems. See my letter in the next posting to my local utility of two years ago. I have not witness any improvements in CFL in recent times.
I am bringing this subject up because some are advocating bypassing the "CFL age" by Light Emitting Diodes- LED.
LED have the advantage of simplicity and very long life, possibly as much as 50,000 hours [15 years] vs., some 8,000 to 10,000 hours for CFL. It is promising but...
The problems are the very high cost of LED and the need for even tighter quality control than on CFL.
The main attraction of LED is their very low electricity consumption, a potential for several times better than CFL. However, the light output of LED vs. energy input, that is, its light efficiency, can vary by ten to one. The manufacturing processes, the material used, the quality control can all contribute to a very low energy efficiency that the buyer is unaware off. Most buyers will seek low cost units, but they would not know the real efficiency of the LED. And the normal tendency to cut corners to increase profits is likely to kill this promising technology too.
Also heat is still a problem, the cooling aspects and the electronic components used could be damaged by heat, depending on positioning, and ease of natural cooling around the LED.
The same problems that have cut down the market penetration of CFL - poor design and poor quality control, can also kill the market potential of LED, and even more so. It is easy and cheap to produce and sell LED that would have low efficiency and shorter life expectancy than possibly CFL. And since the initial cost of LED is expected to be much higher than CFL for the near future, the cost of poor quality and low efficiency could again kill this promising market.
My Suggestion- we could now improve the penetration of CFL, which is already here, by demanding government seal of approval for better design and high quality as the price of selling CFL.
This is excellent. You have done a marvelous job. I like the way you wrote this up.
I had the same sad experience over the past two years. I didn't read anything about this until now, but I found out from experience what you have described here. A few years ago I decided to do what I could to install CFLs in fixtures that we use for more than four hours a day. At first, I thought I might be saving as much as ten percent of the electricity we use. Soon, I experienced every single one of the eight limitations you outlined in your paper below. The short life of these CFLs is doubly compounded by the mercury problem, as it is still a real hassle to properly dispose of these spent lamps, and since I won't toss them into the landfill, I let them pile up in my house.
A few years ago at Cal, I met up with a top specialist in Conservation and I mentioned my concerns about the billions of CFLs that might be landfilled over the coming years. He told me how proud he was that Wal-Mart had agreed to sell millions of them and tried to calm me about mercury by telling me that Cal EPA would have the mercury problem well in hand. I knew better. Now three years later the problem is still real.
The shortened life of these CFLs due to enclosure and upside down orientation is very real, as the lamps I installed in my bathroom inside the glass globes have only lasted about a year or so, so, maybe 700 to 1000 hours. I didn't take the time to be systematic about which CFLs did what, but this has been my basic experience. So, it's just one more broken promise that the environmentally and cost-conscious consumer has to deal with. Given all these drawbacks, it's impossible to know if one is saving any money, but for sure, it's a big hassle.
Wind energy is getting a lot of favorable attention globally because it is the least costly low-carbon energy source, relatively simple technology and already proven its abilities to generate electricity on a large scale. However, as we plan to rely on more wind energy we need to consider some possible serious problems and study them in depth.
I am concerned that future reliance on wind energy as a major source of electricity may be unwise. I think we must also have human-controlled power in substantial amounts to compensate for the greater uncertainty of wind as GW is changing the climate.
I am a strong supporter of wind energy, and that is why I risked my career at the California Energy Commission, in the late 70' to push for developments in this field against my management. With a lot of work we succeeded to verify with clear, multi year data, the first time any place in the world, that wind can be a profitable commercial electrical source.
Global warming is changing weather patterns all over the globe. The steady patterns of strong winds, suitable for practical wind turbines, may not be relied on in many places in the future.
Here is what Dr. Holdren said 5/27/10:
"Global climate is changing. On average it is warming at a rate that is highly unusual against the background of natural variation that has always characterized the earth's climate. It's warming, on the average, but with that warming come changes in all of the elements of climate and the phenomena related to it. That means rain and snow, atmospheric circulation, ocean currents, storms, all changing in their spacial patterns, in their magnitudes and very importantly changing in their timing."
Temperature differences drive the winds, and the temperatures would not remain the same in the future. That may change the intensity and duration of the winds. You need a minimal amount of wind hours that are both not too low to generate sufficient amount of energy and not too high and especially not erratic, to break the blades.
The increase expectation of erratic weather with more intense storms could reduce the output of wind farms and make it less predictable..
Solar input however, should be a steadier source of energy despite the variations in storms, clouds, and weather patterns. Also, the sun, unlike wind, is not able to generate extreme radiations that may damage the conversion systems. In addition land areas suitable for solar energy systems with very low precipitation are expected to grow, not diminish with increase global temperatures.
Good thought and yet another caution. This adds yet one more risk to siting a wind farms and expecting a thirty year economical project. This will drive wind developers to site in the most energetic sites first and hope that the winds don't change that much while the project is producing so the payback period will be less. That means that a remote site with great wind but an expense to build enough transmission lines to deliver the power will make the site less attractive. That said, I assume that at some point in the not too distant future, electric utility planners will realize this risk, but in the meantime, we have a very long way to go before we even reach ten percent from wind. There's also the nagging question of firm capacity, and that means either an integrated grid, gas fired back up, or as of yet unproven energy storage technology.
I wonder if wind energy climatologists have started to model this. Of course, the uncertainty would be quite large, so the results would be unclear.
Matania -- I have two thoughts:
1. Not sure the changes in wind patterns would be fast enough to matter: a 20-year life at a site would be good enough, and then part of the investment could be recovered by moving the wind equipment to where new patterns have created more wind.
2. High wind areas would continue to exist, their locations would change and, if the change not too fast, the investment could be recovered well enough.
The way to quantify it is to compare the risk and uncertainties of the changes in wind with the risks and uncertainties of the competing nuclear. Tough to do and do well enough and credibly enough to convince investors and policy makers.
But, it is an argument I had not heard, and it may help to control over-enthusiasm for wind. It supports a more diverse set of energy sources, and avoids the trend toward all wind as the renewable source.
It may be that way, but the uncertainty is a killer for business. I wish it would not turn out like that, but how can we get a better handle on that to make practical decisions? And with some modicum of success.
My own assessment is that the erratic aspect would not be slow moving. Storms are unpredictable and without pattern. Take tornadoes, locations and intensity are so unpredictable. So, for damage to blades we can expect unpredictability of force and timing.
And what about average energy wind flow between the upper and lower acceptable values? How can we say now how that will change.
Up to now, every report I am aware of shows more rapid change in patterns, not slow moving.
This issue deserves in-depth analyses backed up by results from simulations.
The main, key, primary attention of our global community should be on reducing global warming in conjunction with a viable economy. If we do not devote maximum effort [all demanding extreme amount of capital] to this area very soon dangerous temperature rise would make this world unhealthy to human life. To this end we must not even discuss second order environmental issues, [such as unappealing transmission lines,] and focus on curtailing the global emissions of GHG.
To this end I am comparing below nuclear vs. solar PV roof installations. One of the reason I am selecting these two technologies is because many caring people for our earth too often see only part of the picture and simplify things very much. For example, "PV is good, free sun energy, no moving parts, look how marvelous it is." And the opposite: "nuclear is bad, danger of explosions like Chernobyl, the lack of permanent storage for spent fuel, and danger of terrorism." They do not think out the issues in a comprehensive manner. These issues are too complex and often they see just part of the situation.
People who "hate" nuclear power are not focused on the most crucial issue, cut GHG ASAP and as much as possible and instead are looking at secondary issues. Many unaware good people have been happy in the last few months when they found that the cost of nuclear power stations is very high, as much as $12 Billion per 1000 mw station. Not so fast...
Green power that is nature driven, solar and wind, can be more expensive than nuclear when the total network and backup needs are included, as they must. Nature driven power has many limitations, such as intermittent power that must be backed up by human-controlled thermal power, such as gas, nuclear or oil. I am sure few would like to have their lights and refrigerators work only when the sun is in full power....
Here is a quick comparison of mainly cost:
1. Nuclear power:
Typical nuclear power station is rated at 1000 MW.
In the US most plants achieved 92% availability in the last two decades.
Available energy: 8760 hr/yr x 0.92 x 1000 x 10^6 W : 1000 kW/mW =
8 x 10^9 = 8 billion kWh/yr
Capital Cost: $12 Billion.
2. Roof- installed Photovoltaic systems:
Good output is 1,500 kWh /yr/ kW installed, typical PV system is 3 kW/home
Cost of full system, including subsides, since we all pay for it, is $9,000 per installed kW.
Or $27,000 per home. Despite promises and media noise, the price for individuals did not go down in the last five years. The same in Germany, the reduce cost of silicon panels did not reduce system costs.
Amount of installed PV capacity to deliver the same energy as a nuclear power station:
8 x 10^ 9 divide by 1500 x 3 = 1.8 x 10^6 homes
That is, to generate the same amount of energy of one nuclear power station, that is available most of the time on command, requires PV on 1.8 million homes.
Cost of nuclear power station $12 B
Cost o all solar systems: 1.8 million homes x $27,000 per home: $49 Billions.
THE CAPITAL COST OF ROOF MOUNTED PHOTOVOLTAIC SYSTEMS IS 4 TIMES THE COST OF STEADY NUCLEAR POWER.
In addition, as I said, nuclear is available on demand, while PV systems can not be run alone and need steady power station to supply the three-quarter of the time solar is not available. [PV average power is one quarter of peak rated power.]
Several days of cloudy weather will reduce the average solar output even lower.
This is the reality of intermittent low emission power.
Note, the cost of operation and maintenance of nuclear station per kWh output is considerably lower than for PV system.
Wind energy systems have less of these problems of high costs and also have higher average output then solar PV. However, wind still must be complemented by human-controlled power and must have long transmission lines from a variety of wind energy farms distributed over great distances.
We are seeing here just part of the real problem, and electrical untilities must be a major part of the solution. As much as we suspect them they are the ones with real solid experince, and that is crucial.
Coal-generated electricity emits the highest amount of CO2 per kWh. Depending on the variety of coal used, it is just below one kilogram of CO2 per KWh. But this amount does not include the total GHG that coal is adding to our climate.
When comparing alternative energy sources, it is obvious that we should compare total costs, from cradle to the grave, as the saying goes, or Life Cycle Costs. Too often we do not do a similar analyses when the total carbon cycle is involved. We need to consider the total coal emitted in the process, from the beginning of the coal extraction to final electricity generation.
A recent study* indicates that the total carbon emissions of coal is not just the one kilogram per kWh of the power plant, but we must add between 7% to 17% for the cutting of the mountains, for coal transportation, and the removal of trees when the coal is extracted from mountain tops.
[*Nature, Feb. 10, issue. P. 1002]
[Modern natural gas plants emit about one half as much per unit of electricity.]
Similarly, we have to compare the CO2 emitted during fabrication, installation and maintenance of alternative energy systems. For example, when we consider photovoltaic systems we do not include the amount of CO2 emitted during the manufacturing process. PV is the worse "green technology" as far as CO2 emission is concerned.
Past analysis indicates that it took some 8 years to payback the electricity consumes in the manufacturing, system fabrication and installation of roof-mounted silicon PV systems. It takes a considerable amount of electricity to make the pure silicon panels for current technology PV. Because fabrication cost is important many of the PV silicon panels are made where electricity is very cheap, where electricity is generated by coal power plants! A high percentage of PV silicon is made in Germany and China. Germany uses coal to produce 50% of its electricity, and 80% of China's electricity is generated by coal.
Even if we assume that higher production led to higher manufacturing efficiency of silicon, the CO2 payback can still be in the region of 4 to 5 years. The silicon panels are just 30% of total costs, and considerable amount of additional material and transportation are involved in making and installing a roof-mounted PV system. The amount of CO2 generated by the total the PV life-cycle is almost never included in the analysis of PV net generation of electricity. And in addition, the amount of electricity produced by PV systems is hidden and rarely discussed in order to hide its very high cost per kWh produced, which is the highest of all low-carbon technologies, including nuclear power.
Wind energy has very little CO2 foot print per kWh, and nuclear power has even less than that. But remote new green plants would require long transmission lines with their own CO2 "cost." This is typically not a very high contributor when you divide the initial GHG contribution over the 50 years of typical life of transmission lines.
In all cases of green technology and other reductions of GHG we need to determine and tell the true story, or our ability to reduce GHG emissions would be grossly over estimated.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar approved today the first offshore wind farm off the coast of Cape Cod. It took a year of deliberations. Republicans objected on environmental grounds of all things. The Secretary had to overcome a lot of local resistance, by liberals too, that essentially said: Green energy is good, but not in my back yard.
The Cape Wind Associates, LLC facility would cost a billion dollar, occupy a 25-square-mile section of Nantucket Sound and generate a maximum electric output of 468 megawatts with an average anticipated output of 182 megawatts, ( 39% capacity factor- that is a high percentage, meaning a very good site); 130 wind turbines reaching 400 feet would be installed...
It is about time. We should have done it years ago. Wind energy have been economical and practical for a number of years. Europe has been way ahead of the US for years despite the fact that we, in California, did the original development of wind energy resources, at a significant investment by the State of California that led to the first commercial wind farms in the world. Germany, for example, gets some 7% of its electricity from wind. They have been proud in their very visible wind turbines and understand that you can not go green without some sacrifices of local interest.
And allow me to toot my own horn- more than 30 years ago the California Energy Commission developed the pioneering wind energy programs that put commercial wind energy on the world map. I was privileged to have the opportunity to develop and direct that program. That was the introduction to my plan published in 1979:*
"Wind-electric energy is a sleeping giant. Its large energy capabilities, competitive economics, and social and environmental advantages are not generally known. Wind-electric energy, however, should be one of the major renewable energy supplies in California and in the nation.
The goal of this proposed. program is the generation of at least 10 percent (30 billion kWh/year) of the state's electricity by wind-electric systems by the year 2000. This could be generated by approximately 3,300 three-megawatt wind-electric conversion systems (WECS) located on 100 utility-owned, wind-electric farms."
From: A LARGE SCALE WIND ENERGY PROGRAM FOR THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA
Dr. Matania Ginosar, manager, the Wind Energy Program, California Energy Commission, 1979
From todays, 4/6/10, headlines:
1. Twenty five workers killed in West Virginia coal mine blast:
Four man still missing at coal facility with history of safety violation.
2. China rescuers press ahead, 115 pulled from mine shaft; 5 dead. Xiangning China, - Effort to reach 33 Chinese miners still trapped in a flooded coal pit forged ahead today.
3. A Chinese coal ship stranded on the Great Barrier Reef, Australia, is buffet by strong currents, threatening to spill more oil [in this ecologically sensitive area already damaged by warmer water temperatures.]
Some 80% of China electricity is generated by coal plants. Australia is one of the main external suppliers of coal to China's rapidly increasing coal power plants.
One of the main objections generally expressed to nuclear generated electricity is the safety risk of nuclear power stations. We have one very bad example- the USSR Chernobyl nuclear blast. It was a unique and drastic case of poor plant safety. It had a combination of bad factors: wrong safety designed, no containment over the reactor- a must most of the world, and managed by somewhat primitive control systems. The combination caused large damages, unusable land, and many deaths, probably in the thousands.
But we forget that no other accident of this type occurred any place else. And most important, the damages and lost of life from coal is going on all over the world day in and day out for a long period. They are less dramatic but nevertheless the sum total is much higher than even the USSR accident.
Coal is the dirtiest fuel, damage the landscape on a massive scale, emit vast amount of corrosive air pollutants and its vast use and concurrent massive CO2 emissions is one of the main causes and accelerator of global warming.
Even the unpopular nuclear power is so much superior to coal since nuclear has nearly zero CO2 emissions. Nuclear has the lowest per kWh of all green or low polluting energy alternatives.
We must replace our CO2 generating plants with low emission plants to fight GW. I am fully for wide use of alternative energies wherever possible and reasonably economical. First we need to be factual in our numbers; otherwise we are misleading ourselves towards the wrong approaches. Our California government and the Federal too listen too much to environmental SENTIMENTS and do not check the reality when they give financial support to the wrong technologies. These financial support have to be repaid, they are not free! And we do not have them in abundance.
Again: We must be realistic - we do not have money to waste in the fight against Global Warming. It will cost many trillions and they should be directed to those who cut GHG the most and the fastest.
A few days ago US Today had an article: California solar projects rush to beat deadline for subsidies, By Julie Schmit 4/1/10 USA TODAY (link below)
It seems to me that when writing about electrical systems one should know some basics about the subject. Not the case in this article: Julie Schmit writes the wrong information below that is misleading to most readers. This is the kind of confusing information that sways good people ideas in the wrong direction. Let's look at the numbers she put down:
"Promise of power, jobs
If all are built, the 49 projects seeking stimulus funding would generate 11,000 megawatts of electricity a year. That's enough to supply 7 million California homes and give California utilities a big boost in meeting mandates to get 33% of their energy from renewable sources by 2020.
The projects also would drive 10,000 construction jobs, 2,200 operational jobs and up to $30 billion in investment, including up to $10 billion in federal stimulus dollars, says Michael Picker, Schwarzenegger's renewable-energy adviser. Twenty-two of the 49 projects account for 83% of the power"
First you do not generate 11,000 megawatt, this is the peak potential power, when the solar plants are operating at peak capacity-- which is only around noon. The average power potential for solar is one quarter of that! The sun shines typically 8 hours every 24 hours. Natural gas, coal and nuclear plants are operating between 80% to 92% of the time, up to four times the potential of solar. So we need to look at the total cost and benefits to remain factual.
She also wrote: The energy Supply 7 million homes? That is 60% of all the homes in California! Actually if all are working well the plants may supply electricity to some 1.5 million homes. Her numbers were five times too high!
But they would supply electricity only during sunny days and sun hours. If they use storage, some of their output goes to storage and therefore the peak output and average outputs would be lower!
These solar thermal plants are quite costly now, so a friend and I did some ballpark estimates to get a more realistic picture of what these plants may supply and compare them to nuclear power plants. Many environmentalists do not like nuclear, and for good reasons, and point to their high cost as a major reason they are out of the cost-range we should use. The result show that the cost of electricity of solar-thermal plants could be in the same range as nuclear!
Capital costs $30B less $10B federal Stimulus subsidy, equals net $20B: 14 cents/kWh if the 11,000 MW of We use 15%/year as the annualization of the capital cost, and add nothing for O&M.
The $20B/11GW is $1818/kW. This is for that 2000 kWh/y per kW.
If no federal Stimulus support, the capital cost is $30B, the price would be 20 cents/kWh.
If $40B, 28 cents/kWh.)
For nuclear: at $12,000/kW capital cost, no subsidies, and 92% annual capacity factor (achieved in the last decades in the US), with the same 15%/y to annualize, and the zero O&M cost, as above, it is some 22 cents/kWh.
Natural gas power plants can range from 5 to 8 cents in comparable generation costs. Coal less: 3 to 4c.
Some additional points: Solar plants would not produce electricity at night and cloudy days, even with storage. Nuclear is human-controlled and could be highly available. See my thoughts on nuclear power elsewhere on this site.
Note: These are just gross estimates to get a feel. Considerable more data is needed and calculations must be done to be closer to reality. The cost of nuclear power is for today's prevailing 1000 MW, US technology. Lower costs are projected for standardized, smaller size plants, less than 500 MW.
The costs for solar thermal plant used here are close to the ones obtained elsewhere from models developed by federal energy labs:
USA Today article:
Energy Efficiency Conference
TECHNICAL DISCUSSIONS - CONTINUE:
Illuminating the Developing world.
Evan Mills, Ph.D.
Staff Scientist, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Research Affiliate, Energy & Resources Group, UC Berkeley
There is a substantial global lighting inadequacy. It can easily be seen in the famous satellite picture of the Earth night sky. US, Europe, East side of China, Australia East coast and the like have considerable lights. The poor areas of the world, about one and a half billion people, Africa, much of China, much of interior India, have no electricity. They have been using kerosene lights for a century. And many do not have even that.
The fuel cost of these primitive kerosene lights is around $40 B a year, emitting 190 Million Tones of CO2. Replacing these lights with self generating electricity is equivalent to eliminating CO2 from 30 million cars. And obviously would provide more reliable, steady and non polluting source. The inside air pollution from kerosene is considerable too.
"The most promising modern illumination is by LED because of their high light to energy efficiency, small size, ruggedness, and ability to run on low voltage. It is natural to produce local electricity, away from any power grid, by extremely small PV systems or through temporary connections to grid nodes such as cellphone charging shops. The miniature power supplies may be as low as 3% and thus are a key problem.
The idea is appealing but there are problems and barriers. PV charging has high initial costs, although well-designed systems can pay for themselves in less than a year. Poor-quality manufacturing can result in unnecessarily inferior products that spoil the market. Current LED are up to 60 lpw (lumens per watt.) The best LEDs are approaching 100, but the worst ones tested are around 10 lumens per watt.
Major international initiatives from the World Bank and the U.S. Department of Energy are addressing these issues by instituting better consumer information and quality-assurance testing and rating systems.
Dr. Matania Ginosar wrote:
Evan, thank you very much.
I am puzzled by your statement that PV can be paid back in one year. Here roof locations are, according to our utility $9500/kW installed, and up to 1400 kWh/yr output in good locations.
We are talking about developing country applications for extremely poor people who only have a lantern or two for lighting. We are powering replacement lights with electricity and providing higher levels of energy services, but we aren't electrifying the whole home. The system you described is of course running many lights plus major appliances.
The systems we are working with are less than one watt, because the LED itself is less than one watt.
Households can easily spend $50-$100/year on kerosene lighting, depending on local fuel prices and how they use their lamps.
LED systems are retailing for $20-$50 with small pv panels.
This is really the power of miniaturization (small light, small battery, small solar cell). The systems are of course considerably less expensive without the solar cell (if they can be charged at cell-phone charging shops, at work, etc.)
Dr. Matania Ginosar wrote:
It make sense. I tried last night my 8 LEDs low-cost flashlight. At 4.5V and 0.2 Amps it is close to one watt. But the light in a dark room was very weak, may be equivalent to 10 W incandescent bulb.
We are so accustomed to high intensity light, we probably do not grasp how thankful those without electricity could be even with that small illumination.
Another possibility is that you have a much higher efficiency LEDs than those in my cheap flashlight.
We've seen LED efficacies ranging from 10 to 60 lpw (and that was several years ago). Best ones are approaching 100 lpw now! ~ Evan
There are a lot of discussions about the undesirability of nuclear power and how expensive it is. To answer quickly these concerns I have summarized below the key points to consider. Details are in the different blogs I have written of these issues.
1. GHG are already so high we have little time to slow them down; if we do not, the likelihood of catastrophic climactic events would increase markedly.
2. Fifty percent of the electricity in Germany and the US, and 80% of China is generated by coal, the biggest polluter of all. Even if CCS would work it would take many years to install on a wide scale, and it is risky technically and environmentally. We should not count on it until proven reliable and economical.
3. With all the conservational and efficiency we could achieve realistically, the demand for electricity is increasing in all the developing world. I am all for cutting our use, but the rest of the world is increasing theirs. They are not bound by our ways and situation.
4. The increasing world population coupled with the increasing demand for higher standard of living by the developing world, especially India and China, [with three billion people in several decades,] outstrip any thing we do elsewhere in the developed world combined.
That is: IT DOES NOT MATTER WHEN AND HOW THE ADVANCED COUNTRIES REDUCE THEIR GHG, the emerging nations are on a current path to have some five to ten times the total GHG emissions of all the other nations combined.
5. Let's grasp the magnitude of the energy the world will need: we essentially need the equivalent of one new nuclear plant on line every day for the next forty years!!!
6. We must eliminate all coal-generated electricity in the world if we want to survive the increasing GW.
7. It does not matter what the US and Europe do in nuclear power. There are 440 nuclear plants globally, 104 in the US and about a hundred in Europe. The China/India and rest of Asia have the majority and are building more. Chain is planning 10 more in the next few years and a faster rate later.
What we feel, what we plan, what we like, does not matter at all to the rest of the world. They have their own agenda, they have completely different needs.
8. The capital cost per kWh produced of photovoltaic in an efficient industrial setting is twice the cost of a 1000 MW nuclear plant at ten billions dollar each.
9. We must have human-controlled electrical power to overcome, to supplement the power obtained from nature.
10. Several technologies must be used globally to generate the immense demand for energy, nuclear power will be part of the mix in the rest of the world. The US may as well participate and make this technology safer and available at lower cost. If we do not participate, the outcome may be worse since the rest of the world dos not have the luxury of being over concerned about safety and reliability as the US is. Be a leader or stay to the side.
A practical approach to cut US GHG by 19%
by replacing coal plants with natural gas combined cycle (NGCC)
Our electrical system was designed to supply reliable electricity at the lowest cost, which most of the time was done well. Without blaming, utilities and regulators concentrated mostly on low costs and did not give priority to our national long term needs, especially global warming (GW). But, GW demands a change in this approach: National considerations must be primary concern, not just costs. With limited increase in generation costs we can cut greenhouse gases (GHG) significantly. And since the benefits are national, the costs should be borne nationally too.
Goal: cut GHG as much as possible, as quickly as possible, at acceptable costs
Replacing Coal power plants by NGCC can reduce US GHG by 19%. This is a proven, readily available technology to use in larger quantity.
Several key ways available to cut GHG, first is conservation and energy efficiency.
Here only coal generated electricity is discussed since it is the largest GHG emitter.
Electricity generation emits 35% of US total GHG.
Coal plants emit 80% of that = 28% of all US GHG.
Replacing coal plants with NGCC would cut GHG to 1/3 of coal; a reduction of 19% of total US GHG emissions!
Approach: Mandatory laws, with compensation to customers, workers and owners
1. Reduce use of gas and electricity for winter heating nationally by intense conservation: result 50% cut in older structures, 80% reduction in new structures.
2. No new coal plants allowed - (until Sequestration of CO2 is proven reliable)
3. Only NGCC permitted from fossil fuels - or plants with same low GHG emissions
4. Start with replacing old coal plants with low remaining life, say 5 to 7 years
5. Even higher energy efficiency: Use smaller NGCC plants closer to industrial sites to use the waste heat for industry by combined heat and power (CHP)
6. Reduce PUC ability to hinder CHP with a national authority
Because NGCC plants have fast response they can work well with higher percentage of wind and solar thermal energies to supply base power.
Note: In summer 2009 - 28 new coal plants were under construction, 7 near constructions, and 13 permitted, a total new capacity of 26,000 MW. Plus 47 coal plants are in early stages.
1. Low NG plant usage: The average capacity factor, actual utilization compare to the maximum possible, of coal power plants is 74%, but that of existing NGCC is only 42% in the US, partially because the fuel cost of natural gas (NG) is higher by 3c per kWh.
At a cost increase of 3 c/kWh we can immediately cut GHG significantly with current equipment even before we start this program.
2. Some major questions raised by this proposal:
A. Why depend on another fossil fuel and not go directly to green technologies?
B. Where will we get the NG?
C. What will it cost?
D. How long will it take, or, how complex is it?
E. Note about energy waste and remedy by CHP
A. Why NG and not wind or solar?
Power generation relying on nature, such as wind, solar (and even hydro power), fluctuate and their fluctuations are also unpredictable. Cloudy days effect solar; changes in precipitation change dam storage, and winds are unpredictable and may be more so with increase in GW. Therefore, we must have solid, human-controlled power sources that emit the lowest GHG possible. The only proven technology we now have is nuclear power.
As much as I wish we did not need nuclear power, we will have to use it also in our mix of limited-GHG energy sources. The probability of severe global damage by GHG is much larger than the possibility of damage from nuclear power. However, due to great misconceptions and fear of nuclear power, it will take too long to overcome political resistance and public fear to install sufficient nuclear power plants.
The only currently proven, readily available technology that we can use at reasonable cost, I believe, is NGCC. We can not wait for the ideal, we must do what is possible and fast. And we must have reliable electrical power to sustain an industrial, electricity-based society while cutting drastically our GHG.
Geothermal has limited sources of energy at current technology and costs. Biomass should be tried soon with a large scale setup. Coal Sequestration is not a proven technology, and may not have low enough probability of CO2 escape.
Note: Germany with intense effort for green energies for years, is adding some 50 new coal plants.
B. Where to get the added NG?
Total US yearly natural gas consumption is 23 Tera cuft (10^12), for electricity generation: 6.6 Tera cuft; residential: 5 TCF; Commercial: 3 TCF; industrial: 7 TCU. US imports negligible amount of natural gas beyond our imports by pipelines from Canada and Mexico. We export an insignificant amount to Japan from Alaska (via LNG, i.e., liquefied natural gas). Some 20% of US electricity is generated by NG and it consumes 20% of US NG. During the summer when residential and commercial heating drops drastically, electricity generation from NG doubles to some 40%. Industrial use does not change much by season. It may be lowered by 10% to 20% by additional conservation and efficiency, since it is mostly for material and processing. Industrial use went down over time to cut costs, and because US industrial production has declined. Residential and commercial NG use is mostly for space heating and can be cut significantly by conservation and efficiency. In addition to reducing NG by conservation and efficiency, electrical use is also cut down during winter, in most parts of our country. Many homes in low electrical cost zones, with hydro or coal generation, use electric space heating, which consume substantial amounts of electricity. This could lower need for new NGCC.
Conservation can cut heating consumption in existing homes by over two to one. This saving in NG will be available for electricity production which would allow almost doubling current use of NG for electricity. Additional NG could be extracted from within the US if the demand and higher prices are there to support it, as demonstrated in the last few years with price fluctuation of NG.
Recent technology innovations increased US natural gas reserves by some 50%. In addition the NG industry is starting to exercise its political muscles to use more NG for electricity production.
In case this is not enough over time, we may need to import LNG for expanding use of energy into the US if our conservation and efficiency are not done with sufficient intensity. Canada and Australia can be our major sources for our imports.
C. What will shift to NG cost?
NGCC have higher efficiency and half the emission, thus 1/3 of emission per kWh of coal.
The increase fuel cost is $50 per ton of CO2 reduced, compared to coal. (In comparison Photovoltaic is more than $600 per ton of CO2 under favorable future conditions.)
For the electricity market, coal is $2.00/MMBtu (million Btu) [2c/ 10,000 Btu] and NG is $7.00/MMBtu [7c/ 10,000 Btu]. At 10,000 Btu/kWh for coal and 7,000 Btu/kWh for NGCC the increase is 3 c/kWh above coal. NGCC plants have lower cost than new coal. NGCC has up to 50% efficiency, existing coal is 31%. New NGCC plants cost about $1,200 per kW, are faster online, and there is a tremendous environmental damage from coal plants in addition to high GHG. Coal plant cost is higher because of the higher complexity of the coal input system and the extensive air pollution control required.
If the total increased cost is distributed nationally the price of electricity may rise by 2 c per kWh.
D. How long will it take, and how complex is it?
This proposal is a massive undertaking; it involves up to 700 coal facilities (often more than one plant at a site) in many states with yearly income in the order of $60 B. Political resistance to phasing out coal plants is massive. It may take 20 years to fully accomplish and must be done in conjunction with mandatory national conservation and efficiency drives to reduce the amount of NGCC needed. But the environmental benefits are also considerable, more than can be obtained by partial approaches.
THE ELECTRICITY GENERATION, and DISTRIBUTION SYSTEM IS VAST.
(Ballpark calculations.) Capital investment in electricity generation (of some 1000 billion watt total,) is very large: To replace the 70% of total current electricity generation that is generated by fossil fuels, with "Green" technologies will cost over two trillion dollars, if cost drops to $2/watt, (it does not include the "smart grid".) Note, capacity factor of green energy is less than half of NGCC. Our hope for future low cost green technologies is not likely to reduce this estimate. Moving a technology from R&D to full market penetration is a very long and costly process.
IT WILL COST MORE: US investment in our current electrical system is in the order 1.5 to 2.0 trillion dollars. With depreciation, it is worth less than half this amount. All new "green" technologies, from wind, solar thermal electric--let alone the very expensive photovoltaic technology--are considerably more expensive than current coal and natural gas systems. Over time the elimination of input fuels to coal and NG systems will level the expenses; however, the vast initial investment would not easily come from private capital unless the legal and economic uncertainties are reduced and stabilized.
E. Note about our energy waste and remedy by CHP.
We waste 60% of our input energy during central station electricity generation. This wasted heat is often cooled by scarce fresh water. Typical efficiency now is 33% while two thirds is wasted. Combined Heat and Power (CHP), or cogeneration, is the use of this wasted energy. In some countries in Europe it is used to a much higher level (possibly 40%) than the US (around 8%). This is a critical waste of energy resources, and we must use this throw away heat to reduce our energy use and imports. Note that only about half of this wasted energy can be practically used.
A third of all our energy input, now wasted, is recoverable.
Utilities and the Department of Energy must spend intense effort to use this wasted energy! It could have major impact on our GHG, energy development, importation, and use!
Utilities should be rewarded for cutting its wasted energy. This is not the case in many states.
Or, WHO FIGHT GW THE MOST: GERMANY, US, OR CHINA?
"...the current state of knowledge of global warming is sufficiently clear to state that failure to act promptly to reduce global emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases is overwhelmly likely to lead to changes in climate too extreme and too damaging to be adequately addressed by any adaptation measure that can be foreseen.... "
Dr. John Holdren, Assistant to the President for Science and Technology
I. The common belief:
The common belief is that Germany is working hard to reduce its carbon footprint by aggressively installing green energies, especially photovoltaic (PV).
The common belief is that the US should follow Germany's example and surpass it with a larger amount of green energies.
The common belief is that China is doing little to reduce its carbon footprint. After-all, they are adding more than one coal power plant a week to its already heavy dependence on coal-generated electricity.
II. The reality:
Germany is producing only one third of one percent (0.3)% of its electricity from PV and spent $70 billion to do so. However, wind supplies 7% because it is nearly economical now. Because of the high subsidies, for PV especially, the cost of electricity is so high that some manufacturing companies are considering moving to other countries. Germany with eighty million people, and substantial local supply of coal, decided to eliminate all their nuclear power plants and thus will increase its reliance on more coal plants, already producing 50% of its electricity.
US. We have done nothing to date to reduce our immense GHG emissions. Only talk, no action.
We have three hundreds five million people and the largest global economy. We are the second largest emitter of GHG, and the largest cumulative emitter to date. Our per capita GHG emission is close to the largest in the world.
Do we want to reduce our GHG footprint substantially or copy Germany erroneous direction?
That is: Germany's huge spending on irrelevant PV performance, and their escalating reliance on coal plants?
Do we have so much money to burn without reducing our GHG?
Now 50% of our kWh is from coal; 20 % nuclear; 3 % renewables; 10 % hydro.
China: 1,350 million (4.5 times US), the largest GHG emitter, and will have the most profound increase in GHG in the future. China' one child per family policy cut their population by 400 millions in three decades. China must reduce the deep poverty of 800 million rural people (60% of population) thus dictating large increase in electricity demand. However, contrary to most other nations, they are building nuclear power stations as fast as they can manage. Their goal is to reduce their key dependence on coal generated electricity.
Germany decided to go green when the Red-Green coalition came into power over a decade ago. It decided also to eliminate all nuclear power by 2020. And it gave substantial subsidies and made other laws to encourage wind and photovoltaic.
Here are the results:
Wind energy supplies 7% of the electrical demand. Good!
Photovoltaic supply 0.35% of electrical demand, yes, about a third of one percent, at very high cost
Coal plants supply 50% of its electivity, and many more coal plants are in the pipeline.
Their minister of energy said that their decision to eliminate nuclear power dictates that they will continue to depend on a larger and larger percentage of coal plants.
Is this what we want to copy in the US? More coal generated electricity which already emits some 40% of our GHG. We get 50% of our electricity from dirty coal and the idea of "clean coal" is a dream, with R&D that will take a decade and may cost in the order of a hundred dollar per ton of carbon to collect and store permanently underground. That translates into about 10 cents per kWh. About three times current price of coal-generated electricity.
We have not built any nuclear power station for the last three decades and most of our nuclear plants are approaching the end of their useful life.
China is expecting 200 million people to migrate from their poverty stricken farms to the cities in the next ten to fifteen years. They will need more housing, industry and considerably increase in energy for that.
Currently 80% of its electricity is produced from coal. China is adding 2 coal plants, probably about 1000 Megawatt total, per week. They are also building nuclear power plants.
What are the options for China?
Could the Chinese government try to stop, or drastically slow, this migration? First they will be condemned globally as dictatorial and most important, the Chinese government will have a revolution on its hands.
Do we want a revolution there? I do not believe so, it would be much worse to the world.
China has been doing more than any other country to reduce its footprint on this globe!
China cut its population by 400 millions in the last three decades after the Communist leadership set the 'one child per family' policy. Their goal was to reduce China population to 750 millions within a century.
Compare this to India that does little population control and is expected to have a larger population than China within less than 20 years. Sixty years ago India had 250 millions, half the population of China, 500 million. Now they have almost the same population.
However, China can not continue to depend on mostly coal power plants, as we shall see next time.
Next, comparing the nuclear option to coal in the above 3 countries..
Many scientists like to project what would be the best way to replace our current fossil-based energy sources with green energy. See for example the November issue of Scientific American: Plan for A Sustainable Future. MIT also has projections and so have other institutions. These projections are interesting but I wonder how influential are they?
No matter how good these proposals may be the reality is that the market place, investors, will decide what technology to invest in and how fast it would be available. Their selection, obviously, will be based on potential profits to the investors. Capital investment gravitates actively to the areas with the maximum potential for sustainable profit, return on investment. Energy related laws passed by Congress, and local laws, will influence the potential economic benefits to the investors, and could make or break the potential for large penetration of specific technologies.
It does not matter if we like this reality of the market place or not, since only private investors can raise the immense capital required for this global-wide effort. In addition, government subsidies can distort the market and in the end could even destroy it too, at least for a period, as it did to solar water heating in California in the 1980's.
The eagerness of government to support one green technology over another is not useful on the long term since legislators are neither economists nor scientists. In addition, they do not make laws to benefit the majority of the society, but often to satisfy the strongest advocates and those with more influence. The Cash for Clunkers program was a clear example of governmental waste. The $3 billion had insignificant impact on the American auto industry and inconsequential impact on GHG emission. If invested in attic insulation it could have reduced noticeably energy use in 4 million homes for decades to come, provides many local jobs, and the total money would have remained in the US.
Also note that the market can not function effectively, and could even be paralyzed for a time if there is too much legal uncertainty, that is, if the related laws are not established. The market rather lives with imperfect laws than no laws, or waits for a more desirable set of laws. The free market can not function well with legal uncertainties.
In the US Congressional laws will make significant impact on the selection of technologies by private investors since it will impact the profitability of the investments. But in China, the largest emitter of GHG, the central government, not hindered by need to satisfy the public perception or give political favors, has the ability to push through laws and regulations much faster than we can. This ability to act rapidly, and presumably more scientifically correct, is a very significant, and important difference that could impact the global effort to curtail GW. But we do not know how the Chinese government will use it and we do not know how much the semi independent local leadership will support it. We in the US are unable to respond fast enough and proper enough to this new and not well grasped issue.
If we were sensible, logical people, and not constrained by the need for Congressional favors we would increase markedly (in steps) the cost of fossil fuels and thus make it more attractive to replace them. Many in power believe that Cap &Trade will do that. The Congressional need to attract marginal legislatures, and giving favors for raising money for the next election, dictates Cap & Trade. However, the public does not trust it since it is distorted with so many favors to special interests that it is too complex to grasp, and thus difficult to trust. It reduces further the low trust the public has for Congress.
Economists generally support Cap &Trade since they may understand its complexity, but not the public. However, the public does not have any voice in this political game. As I said, special interest groups that can raise money for the next election carry a major influence on elected officials. I do not believe most in Congress grasps the seriousness and the time-criticality of global warming, and thus continue to use old methods that worked for them in the past. Those methods worked somewhat for less critical issues, the outcomes were not endangering the future of the country. They were not on the scale of GW!
The only other issue on a similar scale was WWII.
We are still using old methods- congressional extreme self interest -which led us partially to our current global warming problem, (remember Congressman Dingle's ability to stop raising the fuel millage standard for many years) to solve this grave new problem. I am greatly concerned that it would not work in time.
Dr. Steven Chu, among other scientists, did not believe in Cap & Trade and recommended fossil fuel tax before he was selected to join the administration. Now he reluctantly, I noticed, has to go along with this politically dictated direction. Most scientists are probably against Cap & Trade too since it is so convoluted, it is hard to know what long term impacts it could induce, and how fast it could reduce GHG emissions.
And time is not on our side on GW.
California is noted for its lower electricity consumption because it has a leveled per capita use of electricity while in the rest of the US the per capita electricity demand increased significantly over the last three decades.
The common belief is that the CA energy standards developed by the California Energy Commission more than three decades ago is the primary reason for the low electricity use. The CA conservation and efficiency standards are very useful and should be an example to the rest of the nation, however, they seem not the main reason for the low electricity consumption. Their impacts are also limited since they apply mostly to new construction. The vast stock of older buildings is not impacted by these important standards.
It seems that the low electricity use is also due to other unique conditions in California and that the building standards, as important as they are, should be tightened significantly.
Below is a letter on this subject I sent recently to an influential senator in the California Senate:
It is likely that California reputation as leader in electricity conservation is not so well deserved and there is a way to improve that at least in one area - building conservation.
According to a 2008 study by two Stanford professors* only 23% of the leveled per capita use of electricity in CA is due to our conservation and efficiency regulations. The rest is due to a large population of immigrants that live at a very low standard of living and at higher density. Some is due to the mild weather in most population centers. The sparsely populated cold and very hot regions of the state, lack of heavy industry, and the lower average size of residential units.
My interest in conservation in housing was intensified when I was the Manager of the Solar Office at the California Energy Commission when we determined that over 80% of the benefits of solar were due to the building insulation.
I continue to advocate conservation since each kWh reduced saves 3 kWh of input energy to the electrical generation system.
Some 6 years ago Larry Carr, a SMUD director (Sacramento Municipal Utility District), invited me to speak to the board about conservation vs. PV. I was instrumental then in reducing SMUD's main emphasis on solar photovoltaic. They were the biggest advocates and users of PV in the US then.
Earlier this year a key staff at the U.S. Senate told me that many Senators were skeptical that we could reduce the global and US energy consumption by 80% by 2050 while global population increase coupled by demand for higher standard of living would dictate considerably higher energy demand. He asked me to help him convinced some Senators that it is possible to cut our immense energy consumption.
I met with CEC (CA. Energy Comm.) commissioner Dr. Art Rosenfeld, known for his high dedication and contributions to energy conservation, to learn from his and CEC vast experience in this area. He gave me his PowerPoint presentation and papers he wrote and presented to leaders in India and China and I sent them to that U.S. Senate staff to help him answer the questions in the Senate.
These exchanges increased my interest in CA energy standards and I did a small investigation to see how it is performing by inspecting three houses under construction (in Sacramento and in the mountain regions) and talked to several builders. The results were disappointing. The builders, as expected, have been concentrating on barely meeting the insulation standards at the minimum possible effort.
I recently calculated the option of a small change in the wall construction that could notably increase building conservation. This is a well known construction option that works effectively with negligible increase in construction cost
I discussed the building standard and the suggested improvement with a seasoned building specialist and he agreed that it would be useful to incorporate in the standard. However, it could be difficult to incorporate it in the CA standard because, he believes, that the requirement is that the payback period for conservation improvements must be a short 5 years. This might have been a way decades ago to allow the State to push trough its standard against the resistance of the building industry. However, if true, it does not satisfy current State needs and global warming concerns.
A typical house in CA lasts more than 50 years and the standard should reflect that reality. Not only that, the improvement I suggested and other improvements we can possibly introduce, should not increase the cost much, if at all. The resistance by builders is probably due more to sticking with known construction and not willing to try even a small, well accepted, improvement.
In addition as global warming advance our temperatures are likely to be more extreme in the summer, requiring more air-conditioning. Therefore, our building conservation should reflect now the temperatures expected during the life of the buildings.
May I suggest that your office investigate if CEC standards are actually constrained by the 5 years payback rule and if so to propose a bill that would open it to a much longer period.
Please note that existing housing stock built before the state energy regulation is vast and waste a lot of energy. It is a subject that deserves considerable higher attention by the government.
* June 2008 Study by:
Department of Management Science and Engineering, Stanford University
Director, Precourt Institute for Energy Efficiency, Stanford University
Investor owns corporations have the responsibility to maximize profit. The same goes for investor-owned electrical utilities. But the need of the nation and the world can be in direct conflict with this established profit goal, especially when dealing with the time-urgent global warming problem.
Power companies operate their plants to maximize profits, not to reduce emission of GHG even when it is very easy to do at minimal increase in cost. Utilities with coal plants may also have natural gas plants that emit considerably lower CO2 than their coal plants. Also, each coal plant has different level of air pollution and CO2 emission. But utilities operate the least fuel cost plants first, usually dirty coal plants. Natural gas fuel cost marginally more, 3c per kWh, than coal generated electricity. In addition, coal plants with higher air pollutions (older plants) may have higher electrical efficiency (more profit) since they do not use as much energy to operate their air filtering equipment. Any ways you look at it the legitimate motive of higher profit could easily conflict with society's need to reduce air pollution and lower CO2 emission.
Note that natural gas is already more readily available, at lower cost, and expected to be more so in the future with increase conservation and new gas sources.
Because of the urgency of GW I suggest that the EPA, US Environmental Protection Agency, should make a quick administrative rule to direct all power utilities, including Municipal utilities to prioritize their electricity generation according to the lowest polluters first, and higher polluters last.
I do hope, however, that this potential ruling is already in the pipeline at EPA and will be in effect soon.
The increase cost should pass to the customers, and may be even be compensated for by the federal government.
This federal support would be considerably more beneficial to the nation and the world in reducing CO2 than supporting marginal alternative energy programs.
For example, ball park estimate only:
As I mentioned, using existing natural gas plants can reduce CO2 by at least a half compare to coal at a cost of 3c a kWh. In comparison, the total cost of electricity generated by photovoltaic, solar, system is in the range of 75c per kWh, without rebates. Therefore, we, as a society, can reduce twenty five times the amount of CO2 by switching to natural gas plants than using PV roof solar.
CCS, carbon capture and storage, is estimated to cost a minimum of an ADDITIONAL 5c per kWh, and possibly about 10c per kWh.
Some may say: use all possible technologies, cost is not important, but this is a dream. Cost is an important consideration since we do not have the financial resources we need to fight global warming effectively and reduce GW unavoidable impacts.
FACTS AND THOUGHTS ABOUT U.S. ELECTRICITY GENERATION
I. Electricity generation consumes 40% of US input energy,
II. 2/3 of this input energy is wasted!
Numbers are rounded up for clarity. All units are metric.
I. Total US PRIMARY energy consumption 100 Quads per year (in 2004), (equivalent to 30 trillion kWh/yr.)
Total PRIMARY energy input to electricity sector is 40 Q (12 trillion kWh)
Total electricity production is 4 trillion kWh/y = 4 x 10^12 kWh/yr [10^12]
Efficiency of total electrical system is low: 4/12 about 30%, almost 70% is wasted
II. We need to capture much of this waste. Not more than half of it is possible to capture
Not only that, central, thermal plants use huge amount of water to cool the steam for the next cycle. Most Solar Thermal plants have the same vast water needs and are now starting to compete in arid areas for scarce water supplies. (See below.)
II. Global Warming Gases - CO2 equiv. emission:
Total US GreenHouse Gases, GHG, emission: 7 Billion tonnes/yr
(1 B T is absorbed in US by nature, mostly by being captured by photosynthesis and stored in the net growth of US forests, for a net of 6B T , but that is a side issue)
Total electricity generation emit 2.4 B Tonnes GHG , 34% of all US GHG
Half US electricity is from coal, emitting 1.9 B T of GHG, 27% of all US total GHG;
1. The first step in the process of reducing GHG emission from electricity generation is reducing electrical consumption. This should be mandatory-not voluntary- voluntary has, at best, very minor penetration that takes decades to make any impact. Examples of successful mandatory measures exist: California's electric appliance efficiency standards, and new building permit standards for residential and commercial structures.
A. High conservation levels of all new construction
B. Increasing appliance efficiency.
C. The best timely approach is using nationally the well- seasoned California Title 24 conservation and the appliance efficiency plans which proven their effectiveness for over two decades.
D. Conservation of existing structures. Most electricity is used in existing poorly insulated homes and businesses. Conservation should be mandatory at sales and upgrades. Voluntary programs are appealing, but insignificant compare to the need.
2. The search for CCS (carbon capture and storage), is a must since so much of global electricity comes from coal. And we will have to depend on coal for at least twenty years. The problem is that :
a. No CCS experience, no plant of the needed characteristics exists,
Therefore, WE DO NOT KNOW IF IT WILL WORK RELIABLY over time
b. The danger of major CO2 leak could be serious.
c. The cost estimates for production scale CCS are high, in the range of $50-$100 per ton of CO2. At $100/ton CO2 would add 10 cents/kWh to the cost of electricity from coal, an increase of 100% to 200% from current costs of generating from a coal-fired power plant.
The cost paid by a residential customer is usually two to three times the cost of generation, because transmission, distribution, connection and administrative costs add to about twice the costs of generation in cents/kWh.
Because coal is an extremely polluting source and so much is dependent on CCS unproven technology, we must do all we can to reduce our dependence on coal. First we should prevent construction of any new coal power plants that do not capture and store most of their CO2 emissions, and as a minimum retire aging, low efficiency plants ASAP, and replace those we can by natural gas combined cycle (NGCC). NGCC can cut GHG emission to 40% of coal.
III. Some governmental impediments to increase electricity generation efficiency:
Most electrical production is controlled by local utilities which are mostly profit oriented, and regulated by each state's form of public service commission (PUC or PSC or other).
"Munis" (municipal utilities) are not so controlled but should be. Their local interests should be secondary to national needs.
Most PUCs require large, centralized electrical generation, far away from population centers, partially for safety and partially to reduce local pollution. This reduce the potential for CHP (combined heat and power), which uses the wasted heat of the power plants. CHP is also called "cogeneration". Europe has considerably higher percentage of CHP than in the US.
We need a national law setting increasing percentage requirements for CHP, and appropriate compensation when applicable. This, together with conservation and efficiency measures at the points of electricity use, will be one of the lowest cost ways to reduce CO2.
CHP could reduce electricity generation costs.
Germany generates 50% of its electricity from coal, and is increasing it rapidly; 23 % nuclear
China generates 80% of its electricity from coal, increasing it rapidly
France generates 80% of its electricity from nuclear power
I thank Dr. Evan Hughes for his review and comments on some of the content here. However, the views and opinions expressed, and the responsibility for the facts given, are mine alone.